The Irish Coast Guard saved 161 lives during the past year.
Responding to almost 2,000 incidents, it was the busiest year since the search and rescue service was formed in 1822.
Crews recovered 88 bodies during 2012 – also the highest number on record.
Transport Minister Leo Varadkar paid tribute to staff members and volunteers of both the Coast Guard and the Royal National Lifeboat Institute (RNLI) for their work.
“These are essential services and much of the cost is met by volunteers,” he said.
“But I particularly want to pay tribute to the huge number of volunteers who save lives every week of the year.
“Without these volunteers, it simply wouldn’t be possible to provide the same level of emergency response.”
The 1,963 call-outs the Coast Guard dealt with during the year represented an 8% increase on 2011, latest figures show.
There are currently 900 volunteers in the Coast Guard, 2,000 in the RNLI as well as 300 community rescue boats and 500 mountain and cave rescue volunteers.
They provide a 24-hour on-call service to respond to emergencies at sea, on cliffs and coasts.
Mr Varadkar vowed funding would continue for the rescue services and said there would be a major water safety initiative launched in the new year.
This will include a publicity campaign, new safety signs at slipways and piers, and a safety on the water website.
The Coast Guard also revealed there was an “unacceptably high” number of hoax calls during the year, at 325.